Thursday, September 5, 2019

An Announcement

Hello everyone. You may have noticed that I haven't posted any reviews for over a month now. That is because: 1. Nothing really worth seeing comes out in August; & 2. I haven't had the desire or energy to do film criticism anymore. Which is why I'm announcing that I am indefinitely going to stop writing film reviews on this blog. I am going to focus more on doing film things outside of criticism, such as screenwriting & short filmmaking. I am attending Oakland University for cinema studies (filmmaking), & I know that will further help me reach my goal of becoming a writer & director. I may come back to film criticism, but I don't foresee that happening. So, this is Cameron Kanachki, The Michigan Movie Guy, signing off & telling you to watch Booksmart & avoid Bohemian Rhapsody.

P.S. I will give a mini-review of the films I've seen recently as my last review.

Good Boys - ★★★½ - This coming of age comedy is a bit too underdeveloped & reliant on profanity by kids, but it's mostly hilarious & honestly sweet.

Blinded by the Light - ★★★½ - While this biographical comedy-drama is too formulaic at times, it's a mostly sweet & charming look at one man's love for Bruce Springsteen.

Apocalypse Now - ★★★★★ - This is the best war film ever made. Absolutely groundbreaking.

Ready or Not - ★★★★★ - It's absolute insanity, & I loved it.

The Peanut Butter Falcon - ★★★★★ - The most heartfelt film of the year.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Love him, hate him, or have mixed feelings about him, you can't deny that Quentin Tarantino has made an indelible impact on modern American cinema. From his blistering debut, 1992's Reservoir Dogs; his breakout hit, 1994's Pulp Fiction; & my personal favorite work of his, 1997's Jackie Brown, to his revenge double feature, 2003's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2004's Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (yes, they are two films, & if they are truly one film, then Quentin Tarantino owes me $8. But I digress...); his half of a grindhouse double feature, 2007's Death Proof; his WW2 revisionist thriller, 2009's Inglourious Basterds; his slavery Spaghetti Western (or "Southern"), 2012's Django Unchained; & his 70mm roadshow, 2015's The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has enraptured many with his colorful dialogue, nonlinear storylines, & wondrous originality, but he also alienated many with his cartoonish violence, extensive use of the N-word, & his unapologetic foot fetish. Nevertheless, I consider Tarantino to be one of my favorite filmmakers. However, as a person, he just really irritates me.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is, by far, Tarantino's best film this decade. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, the film follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aging actor in Hollywood. Once the star of the Western TV series Bounty Law, Dalton's career has faltered due to a floundering film career, & has now been reserved for playing the bad guy of the week on TV shows. As a result, he mostly spends his time with his best friend & stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a war veteran who drives Dalton around Los Angeles, & has also suffered from lack of work, due to rumors about him & his wife.

After a meeting with agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino), Dalton comes to the conclusion that he is a has-been, as his roles as the bad guy of the week are dragging his star power down, & the only work he can find as a lead is in Spaghetti Westerns in Italy, which Dalton detests due to their low quality. However, Rick finds some hope in the fact that actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) & her husband, director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha), have moved in next door to his house on Cielo Drive, as befriending them could be the rebound he needs for his career. That night, Tate & Polanski attend a party at the Playboy Mansion, where Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) tells a story about how Tate left hairdresser Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) for Polanski, but Sebring is, more or less, a third wheel that Tate will go to if the relationship between her & Polanski sours.

The next day, Dalton goes to work on the set of Lancer, the new Western TV series starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant) & Wayne Maunder (Luke Perry). The pilot episode Dalton is appearing in is being directed by American expatriate Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond). Booth tries to see if he can work on set, but Dalton tells him he can't, since Randy (Kurt Russell), a stuntman, is on the set as well, & he deeply despises Booth, not only for the rumors which his wife Janet (Zoë Bell) believes, but also due to Booth's destructive fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet. On set, Dalton strikes up a conversation with Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters), a young method actress.

After fixing Dalton's TV antenna, Booth drives around. He eventually picks up a hitchhiker named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), & drives her to Spahn's Movie Ranch, a ranch used for filming Westerns some years prior. He does this since he knew the owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern), who has let Pussycat & some other people live on his ranch, including Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), Charles "Tex" Watson (Austin Butler), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Dakota Fanning), & Gypsy (Lena Dunham).

Meanwhile, as Dalton works on Lancer, & Booth runs into the Manson Family, Tate goes to see herself in the film The Wrecking Crew. All of these storylines will eventually coalesce on one night in August.

The cast is terrific. Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his three best performances. He is commanding, sincere, & hilarious all at once. Brad Pitt is at his most humorous in years, further showing that he is as terrific in comedic roles as he is on dramatic roles. Margot Robbie is absolutely phenomenal as Sharon Tate, bringing her back to life & embodying everything we loved about her.

From the supporting cast, Margaret Qualley, Mike Moh & Julia Butters are the standouts. Qualley gives a very mystical touch to her performance, covering her character in mystery. Mike Moh brings Bruce Lee back to life. And Julia Butters is wonderful as a precocious child actress, & I hope she gets more roles after her performance here. The rest of the supporting cast, especially Austin Butler, Luke Perry, & Al Pacino, give great performances.

Quentin Tarantino's direction is phenomenal. Tarantino's sense of world-building is turned up to 100, as he makes us feel like we're back in 1969, when the streets of Los Angeles were draped in neon & the counterculture ruled society. He also brings back his trademark visual style, where the visuals are visceral & bursting with energy. And, surprisingly for him, the atmosphere has no sense of nihilism or bleakness, but is instead filled with nothing but pure warmth & sincerity for the people, the time, & the place.

Quentin Tarantino's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is always ready to keep us on the edge of our seats & subvert our expectations. The characters are wonderfully realized, & also lovingly idiosyncratic. And the dialogue is, as always for a Tarantino film, perfect.

Robert Richardson's cinematography is gorgeous. Richardson colorfully paints 1969 Los Angeles in neon colors & bright sunshine, always giving us a huge burst of nostalgia for the time period. And when it couldn't get better, it does; its projection on film gives it more of a timeless quality, perfectly fitting that wondrous era. If you get the chance, please see it on 35mm film (or, if you're lucky, 70mm film).

Fred Raskin's editing is excellent. For a film that runs over 2.5 hours, the film races by so quick. Also, it is so perfectly cut, using fast cutting the way it should be used.

Arianne Phillips' costume design is beautiful. The costumes are so colorful, period-accurate, & just so lovely to look at.

Barbara Ling's production design is spectacular. The set completely immerses us in 1969, with all the colorful architectural styles & studio backlots perfectly matching the era.

The makeup & hairstyling is superb. The makeup is colorful, & the hairstyling is completely period-accurate & lovingly realized.

The sound design is impeccable. The sounds are perfectly edited & mixed, especially when it comes to the sounds of Tarantino's trademark violence.

And the soundtrack is incredible. The music of the era becomes a character in & of itself. With songs such as Deep Purple's Hush, Neil Diamond's Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show, The Buchanan Brothers' Son of a Lovin' Man, Los Bravos' Bring a Little Lovin', The Mamas & the Papas' Twelve Thirty (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon), Vanilla Fudge's You Keep Me Hangin' On, & The Rolling Stones' Out of Time, the soundtrack is a mix of major hits, one-hit wonders, & lesser-known singles that perfectly serves as a backdrop to the characters & the setting.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of Tarantino's three best works, along with Jackie Brown & Inglourious Basterds. It is Tarantino at his most laid-back, sincere, & hilarious, but above all, it is a gorgeous love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, July 25, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere, & it is showing on 35mm film at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 161 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, & sexual references.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Art of Self-Defense

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Dark comedy is my absolute favorite type of comedy. I love laughing at things that would usually be considered taboo. However, naturally, there are things that shouldn't be joked about. But for the most part, if you find the right thing to poke fun at, it will work out incredibly well, & will make me burst out in laughter.

The Art of Self-Defense does just that, & is one of the funniest films of this decade. The film follows Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg), a 35-year-old mild-mannered accountant. Casey lives alone with his dog, & feels incredibly out of place at work. Ultimately, Casey mostly stays inside his own little shell.

One night, Casey goes to purchase dog food. On the way back, Casey is approached by 3 people on motorcycles, & after being asked if he has a gun, is robbed & savagely beaten. While given time off work, Casey becomes insecure in his masculinity, & considers purchasing a gun for protection. However, Casey does find an outlet for his issues in a karate dojo, led by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola). Casey tries a free class & likes it, eventually starting to take day classes, earning his white belt, the first belt in line.

While in karate, Casey meets Anna (Imogen Poots), a brown belt student who also teaches the children's classes, & Henry (David Zellner), a blue belt student who befriends Casey. Eventually, Casey catches the eye of Sensei & the other students, eventually being promoted to a yellow belt, while Anna & Henry are snubbed for promotions, Anna's snubbing being for her womanhood, according to Sensei.

Eventually, Casey gets himself invited to the prestigious night classes, as Sensei sees himself in Casey. But the more involved Casey gets in karate, the more he wonders about what is actually going on at the dojo.

The cast is terrific. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect in the role he was born to play: a seemingly meek person struggling with masculinity issues. Alessandro Nivola is devilishly mysterious & bitingly funny. And Imogen Poots is superb.

Riley Stearns' direction is excellent. Stearns always keeps on the edge of our seat by always staying one step ahead of the audience when it comes to where we think the film is headed.

And Riley Stearns' screenplay is brilliant. The plot deals with many relevant themes, such as toxic masculinity & gun culture, all to incredible effect. The characters are wonderfully offbeat. And the dialogue is gut-bustingly hilarious.

This is one of the best dark comedies I've ever seen. It deals with so many timely themes in such a hilarious manner, & establishes Riley Stearns as a great up-&-coming director in American independent cinema.

The Art of Self-Defense was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, July 19, 2019. It is currently showing in 10 theaters in the Detroit area, including the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI; & the Emagine Canton in Canton, MI. Its runtime is 104 minutes, & it is rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity & language.

The Lion King

★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Lion King (1994) is, by far, the greatest animated film ever made. The opening sequence is still emotionally powerful after 25 years, & the animation is timeless. And as someone who has only watched it for the first time recently, I can say that I feel connected to it as much as someone who has seen it many times since they were a toddler.

However, The Lion King (2019) is nowhere near the original in terms of quality, & is ultimately a soulless live-action remake. The film follows Simba (Donald Glover as an adult, JD McCrary as a child), a lion in the Pride Lands of Africa. His father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is the king of the Pride Lands, assisted by the hornbill Zazu (John Oliver) & the mandrill Rafiki (John Kani), & with his queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) by his side. However, Simba's uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is secretly planning to usurp the throne from Mufasa with the help of Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), & Azizi (Eric Andre), three hyenas. Nevertheless, Simba yearns to be king one day, & he is betrothed to Nala (Beyoncé as an adult, Shahadi Wright Joseph as a child), his best friend.

One day, Scar sets a trap for Simba & Mufasa as a large herd of wildebeest stampede by Pride Rock. Simba is lured into the stampede, leading Mufasa to come & save him; however, although he saves Simba, Mufasa is unable to get back up off the ledge. Mufasa asks Scar for help, but Scar lets him fall off the ledge, & is killed in the stampede. Scar blames Simba for his father's death, & tells him to run away & never return. Scar sends the hyenas after Simba in a plan to kill him, but they fail in their quest.

Simba runs all the way to a desert, where he collapses. He is rescued by Timon (Billy Eichner) & Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), a meerkat & a warthog, respectively, who are best friends. They take Simba in & introduce him to their philosophy of "hakuna matata," which means "no worries." Simba grows up under this philosophy, & finds himself to be content with his carefree life. But a chance encounter with Nala will lead Simba to reconsider his future & possibly return to the Pride Lands to take back his kingship.

The cast is great. Donald Glover, Beyoncé, James Earl Jones, & Alfre Woodard are all great. Billy Eichner & Seth Rogen steal the show. However, Chiwetel Ejiofor is not a great fit, never fully capturing the essence that made Jeremy Irons so imposing in the original film.

Jon Favreau's direction is underwhelming. While he does show a keen visual eye, Favreau is never able to get near as much natural emotion from the audience as Rob Minkoff did with the original film.

Jeff Nathanson's screenplay is mediocre. The plot is exactly the same as the original, & while that's not inherently bad, there is nothing new given to the characters, ultimately making the film feel soulless.

The visual effects are polarizing. For the most part, the animals are incredibly well-realized. However, the lions have no emotion whatsoever, making them feel very unrealistic.

And the music is terrific. The score by Hans Zimmer still has a timeless quality, & the songs feel as fresh as ever.

This is a huge disappointment. Although there are things to like about it, it's basically a glorified Disney Nature documentary, & that's definitely not a compliment.

The Lion King was seen by me at the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, July 18, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 118 minutes, & it is rated PG for sequences of violence & peril, & some thematic elements.


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Cop comedies have been around in cinema for ages: some good (21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street), some bad (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot). Although they aren't as successful as they once were, they're still enjoyable from time to time.

Stuber isn't anywhere near perfect, but it's definitely hilarious & enjoyable. The film follows Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a mild-mannered Uber driver in Los Angeles. Stu also works at a sporting goods facility, where he has to deal with co-workers like Richie Sandusky (Jimmy Tatro). However, he is planning on leaving his job at the sporting goods facility to start up a women's spin biking gym with his best friend/crush Becca (Betty Gilpin).

One day, Stu picks up Det. Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. Vic is after Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais), a notorious drug lord who killed Vic's partner Det. Sara Morris (Karen Gillan) six months earlier. As a result of her death, Vic has been adamant in finding him, although Capt. Angie McHenry (Mira Sorvino) has told him to take a break from the case. Vic would do the task himself, but as a result of LASIK surgery earlier that day, he cannot drive, so he forces Stu to drive him around looking for Teijo in the Uber that his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) called for him for her art gallery that night.

While driving through Los Angeles, Stu & Vic constantly bicker: Stu berates Vic for his toxic masculinity & neglect towards his daughter, while Vic berates Stu for not being a real man. But they must put aside their differences if they have any chance at finding Teijo.

The cast is amazing. Kumail Nanjiani continues to show that he is one of the funniest actors in Hollywood right now. Dave Bautista also shows off the great comedic timing that made him such a standout in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The rest of the cast is also hilarious, but it's Nanjiani, Bautista, & their chemistry that truly shine.

Michael Dowse's direction is great. Although his handling of the action sequences isn't the best, he definitely continues to show a great eye for comedy.

And Tripper Clancy's screenplay is very good. The plot is definitely formulaic, & some characters aren't fully realized, but the dialogue is often very humorous.

This is a solid action-comedy. Although it is nowhere near a 5-star ride, it has just enough for me to give a positive rating.

Stuber was seen by me at an advance screening at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 93 minutes, & it is rated R for violence & language throughout, some sexual references & brief graphic nudity.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wild Rose

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I've said it before, & I'll say it again: I HATE COUNTRY MUSIC. All of them sound the exact same: men drinking a cold beer in their pickup trucks singing about their woman & how much they love rural America. The only country singers I've ever liked are Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, & Kacey Musgraves. Other than that, I don't like it.

But Wild Rose has done something rare: it made me not only like country music, but love it. And other than that, it's an absolute wonder of a film. The film follows Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley), a young woman in Glasgow. Rose-Lynn has just been released from prison for a drug charge, & returns to her home, where her mother Marion (Julie Walters) has taken care of Rose-Lynn's 2 children, Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield) & Lyle (Adam Mitchell). When not in prison, Rose-Lynn is an avid country fan, & yearns to be a famous country singer in Nashville. However, her tendency for debauchery gets in her way.

Rose-Lynn gets a job as a housekeeper for the family of Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). While housekeeping, Rose-Lynn sings multiple country songs, & her voice surprises Susannah, who believes that Rose-Lynn has a great future in country music. Susannah decides to help Rose-Lynn get out there & follow her dreams. After this, Rose-Lynn is steadfastly working towards her goal. But the fear that she might do this while risking whatever semblance of a relationship with her children lulls over her.

The cast is phenomenal. Jessie Buckley is electrifying. She puts 200% into her performance, & also has the voice of an angel. Julie Walters gives one of her best performances. And Sophie Okonedo is at her best in years.

Tom Harper's direction is excellent. Harper gives a more realistic look into the familar rise-to-stardom story, & also keeps the atmosphere warm throughout.

Nicole Taylor's screenplay is amazing. For such a familiar premise, the plot feels incredibly fresh. The characters are well-realized, & the dialogue is incredibly realistic.

And the music is phenomenal. The songs are all incredibly well-written, & they are used to their full extent through Jessie Buckley's soul-shattering voice.

This is one of the best films of the year so far. It's an incredibly fresh look at a rags-to-riches story, led by a star-making performance by Jessie Buckley.

Wild Rose was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Sunday, July 7, 2019. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the AMC Livonia 20 in Livonia, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 101 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality & brief drug material.

Saturday, July 20, 2019


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

There are two distinct types of horror films today. The first is your more traditional style of horror, which mostly relies on jump scares & has a varying degree of atmospheric horror. This style can range from great (It) to awful (The Curse of La Llorona). The second is more classic, but has been demonstrated less & less recently in favor of the first style. This style has always been done very well, at the least, to masterful at the best.

Midsommar is the best use of that classic horror style I've ever seen. The film follows Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), a college student. Although she has been in a relationship with fellow college student Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor) for 4 years, their relationship has become more emotionally distant, with Christian's friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) & Mark (Will Poulter) wanting him to break up with her due to her supposed neediness.

However, during the winter, a traumatic event in Dani's family occurs, & this brings Dani & Christian closer together as the year starts. That summer, Christian, Josh & Mark are invited by their friend & classmate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to come with him to the Swedish province of Hälsingland, specifically his commune of the Hårga, for the midsummer festival, which only occurs every 90 years. Dani is upset that Christian didn't tell her he was going, so as an apology, Christian invites her along, much to the chagrin of Mark.

When they arrive at the Hårga, they meet Simon (Archie Madekwe) & Connie (Ellora Torchia), a British couple who was brought there by Pelle's brother Ingemar (Hampus Hallberg). They all take psychedelic drugs, which give them varying trips. However, they find the festival to be a pleasant experience at first. But the festival is not as it seems, & that, along with tensions inside the group, threaten to make this a festival from hell.

The cast is terrific. Florence Pugh gives one of the best horror performances I've ever seen. She is a lethal mix of grief & terror. Jack Reynor is superb. William Jackson Harper is wonderful. Vilhelm Blomgren is delightfully mysterious. And Will Poulter is devilishly funny.

Ari Aster's direction is excellent. With Hereditary & now Midsommar, Aster has proven himself to be one of the best horror directors of this era. Aster is at his most visually striking, psychologically disturbing, &, surprisingly, his most hilarious.

Ari Aster's screenplay is brilliant. Aster never shows his hand with this script, only letting us slowly realize what's going on here. Also, the characters are terrifically well-written, & the dialogue is perfect & often very humorous.

Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography is wondrous. The sun-draped Swedish landscape is beautifully captured, luring us into a false sense of security.

Lucian Johnston's editing is wonderful. Johnston drenches us with a slow pace that perfectly fits the film, making you feel as if you're in a nightmare from which you can't escape.

The sound design is impeccable. The sounds that are uttered in the film are horrifying to hear, & they are amplified to their biggest extent.

And Bobby Krlic's score is phenomenal. Krlic mixes between low-tone ambient sounds & striking violins, always giving us a sense of uneasiness.

This is the best horror film I've ever seen. It is incredibly well-acted, visually disturbing, & horrifying long after those credits roll.

Midsommar was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, July 4, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 147 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence & grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use & language.